M%C4%81ori Language
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M%C4%81ori Language

M?ori, Te reo M?ori
Native toNew Zealand
EthnicityM?ori people
Native speakers
Some 50,000 people report that they speak the language well or very well;[1]
149,000 self-report some knowledge of the language.[2]
Latin (M?ori alphabet)
M?ori Braille
Official status
Official language in
 New Zealand
Regulated byM?ori Language Commission
Language codes
mao (B)
mri (T)
Idioma maorí.PNG
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

M?ori (; ['ma:??i] About this soundlisten), also known as te reo ('the language'), is an Eastern Polynesian language spoken by the M?ori people, the indigenous population of New Zealand. Closely related to Cook Islands M?ori, Tuamotuan, and Tahitian, it gained recognition as one of New Zealand's official languages in 1987. The number of speakers of the language has declined sharply since 1945,[4] but a M?ori language revitalisation effort slowed the decline, and the language has experienced a revival, particularly since about 2015.[5]

A national census undertaken in 2013 reported that about 149,000 people, or 3.7% of the New Zealand population, could hold a conversation in M?ori about everyday things.[2][6] As of 2015, 55% of M?ori adults reported some knowledge of the language; of these, 64% use M?ori at home and around 50,000 people can speak the language "very well" or "well".[1]

The M?ori language did not have an indigenous writing system. Missionaries arriving from about 1814 learned to speak M?ori, and introduced the Latin alphabet. In 1817 T?tore, and his junior relative, Tui, sailed to England.[7] They visited Professor Samuel Lee at Cambridge University and assisted him in the preparation of a grammar and vocabulary of M?ori. Kendall travelled to London in 1820 with Hongi Hika and Waikato (a lower ranking Ng?puhi chief) during which time further work was done with Professor Lee, who gave phonetic spellings to a written form of the language, which resulted in a definitive orthography based on Northern usage.[8] By 1830 the Church Missionary Society (CMS) missionaries had revised the orthography for writing the M?ori language; for example, "Kiddeekiddee" became, what is the modern spelling, "Kerikeri".[9] M?ori distinguishes between long and short vowels; modern written texts usually mark the long vowels with a macron. Some older texts represent long vowels with double letters (e.g. "Maaori"); for modern exceptions see § Long vowels below.


The English word comes from the M?ori language, where it is spelled M?ori. In New Zealand, the M?ori language is often referred to as te reo [t? '.?] ('the language'), short for te reo M?ori.[10]

The spelling ⟨Maori⟩ (without a macron) is standard in English outside New Zealand in both general and linguistic usage.[2][11] The M?ori-language spelling ⟨M?ori⟩ (with a macron) has become common in New Zealand English in recent years, particularly in M?ori-specific cultural contexts,[10][12] although the traditional English spelling is still prevalent in general media and government use.[13]

Preferred and alternate pronunciations in English vary by dictionary, with being most frequent today, and , , and also given, while the 'r' is always a rolled r.[14]

Official status

New Zealand has three official languages: English, M?ori, and New Zealand Sign Language.[15] M?ori gained this status with the passing of the M?ori Language Act 1987.[16] Most government departments and agencies have bilingual names--for example, the Department of Internal Affairs Te Tari Taiwhenua--and places such as local government offices and public libraries display bilingual signs and use bilingual stationery. New Zealand Post recognises M?ori place-names in postal addresses. Dealings with government agencies may be conducted in M?ori, but in practice, this almost always requires interpreters, restricting its everyday use to the limited geographical areas of high M?ori fluency, and to more formal occasions, such as during public consultation. Increasingly New Zealand is referred to by the M?ori name Aotearoa ("land of the long white cloud"), though originally this referred only to the North Island.[17]

An interpreter is on hand at sessions of the New Zealand Parliament for instances when a Member wishes to speak in M?ori.[12][18] M?ori may be spoken in judicial proceedings, but any party wishing to do so must notify the court in advance to ensure an interpreter is available. Failure to notify in advance does not preclude the party speaking in M?ori, but the court must be adjourned until an interpreter is available and the party may be held liable for the costs of the delay.[19]

A 1994 ruling by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council[20] in the United Kingdom held the New Zealand Government responsible under the Treaty of Waitangi (1840) for the preservation of the language. Accordingly, since March 2004, the state has funded M?ori Television, broadcast partly in M?ori. On 28 March 2008, M?ori Television launched its second channel, Te Reo, broadcast entirely in the M?ori language, with no advertising or subtitles. The first M?ori TV channel, Aotearoa Television Network (ATN) was available to viewers in the Auckland region from 1996 but lasted for only one year.[21]

In 2008, Land Information New Zealand published the first list of official place names with macrons, which indicate long vowels. Previous place name lists were derived from computer systems (usually mapping and geographic information systems) that could not handle macrons.[22]


A 1930 edition of "First Lessons in Maori" by William Leonard Williams, Bishop of Waiapu from 1895 to 1909. It was first published in 1862.

According to legend, M?ori came to New Zealand from Hawaiki. Current anthropological thinking places their origin in eastern Polynesia, mostly likely from the Southern Cook or Society Islands region, and says that they arrived by deliberate voyages in seagoing canoes[23]--possibly double-hulled, and probably sail-rigged. These settlers probably arrived by about AD 1280 (see M?ori origins). Their language and its dialects developed in isolation until the 19th century.

Since about 1800, the M?ori language has had a tumultuous history. It started this period as the predominant language of New Zealand. In the 1860s, it became a minority language in the shadow of the English spoken by many settlers, missionaries, gold-seekers, and traders. In the late 19th century, the colonial governments of New Zealand and its provinces introduced an English-style school system for all New Zealanders. From the mid 1800s, due to the Native Schools Act and later the Native Schools Code, the use of M?ori in schools was slowly filtered out of the curriculum in order to become more European.[24] Increasing numbers of M?ori people learned English.


Until the Second World War (1939-1945), most M?ori people spoke M?ori as their first language. Worship took place in M?ori; it functioned as the language of M?ori homes; M?ori politicians conducted political meetings in M?ori, and some literature appeared in M?ori, along with many newspapers.[25]

Before 1880, some M?ori parliamentarians suffered disadvantages because Parliament's proceedings took place in English.[26] However, by 1900, all M?ori members of parliament, such as Sir ?pirana Ngata, were university graduates who spoke fluent English. From this period greater emphasis was placed on M?ori learning English, but it was not until the post World War II migration of M?ori to urban areas that the number of speakers of M?ori began to decline rapidly.[27] By the 1980s, fewer than 20% of the M?ori spoke the language well enough to be classed as native speakers. Even many of those people no longer spoke M?ori in the home. As a result, many M?ori children failed to learn their ancestral language, and generations of non-M?ori-speaking M?ori emerged.[28]

Revitalisation efforts

By the 1980s, M?ori leaders had begun to recognise the dangers of the loss of their language, and initiated M?ori-language recovery-programs such as the K?hanga Reo movement, which from 1982 immersed infants in M?ori from infancy to school age. There followed in 1985 the founding of the first Kura Kaupapa M?ori (Years 1 to 8 M?ori-medium education programme) and later the first Wharekura (Years 9 to 13 M?ori-medium education programme). Although "there was a true revival of te reo in the 1980s and early to mid-1990s ... spurred on by the realisation of how few speakers were left, and by the relative abundance of older fluent speakers in both urban neighbourhoods and rural communities", the language has continued to decline.[4] The decline is believed "to have several underlying causes".[29] These include:

  • the ongoing loss of older native speakers who have spearheaded the M?ori-language-revival movement
  • complacency brought about by the very existence of the institutions which drove the revival
  • concerns about quality, with the supply of good teachers never matching demand (even while that demand has been shrinking)
  • excessive regulation and centralised control, which has alienated some of those involved in the movement
  • an ongoing lack of educational resources needed to teach the full curriculum in te reo M?ori.[29]

Based on the principles of partnership, M?ori-speaking government, general revitalisation and dialectal protective policy, and adequate resourcing, the Waitangi Tribunal has recommended "four fundamental changes":[30]

  1. Te Taura Whiri (the M?ori Language Commission) should become the lead M?ori language sector agency. This will address the problems caused by the lack of ownership and leadership identified by the Office of the Auditor-General.[31]
  2. Te Taura Whiri should function as a Crown-M?ori partnership through the equal appointment of Crown and M?ori appointees to its board. This reflects [the Tribunal's] concern that te reo revival will not work if responsibility for setting the direction is not shared with M?ori.
  3. Te Taura Whiri will also need increased powers. This will ensure that public bodies are compelled to contribute to te reo's revival and that key agencies are held properly accountable for the strategies they adopt. For instance, targets for the training of te reo teachers must be met, education curricula involving te reo must be approved, and public bodies in districts with a sufficient number and/or proportion of te reo speakers and schools with a certain proportion of M?ori students must submit M?ori language plans for approval.
  4. These regional public bodies and schools must also consult iwi (M?ori tribes or tribal confederations) in the preparation of their plans. In this way, iwi will come to have a central role in the revitalisation of te reo in their own areas. This should encourage efforts to promote the language at the grassroots.[32]

The changes set forth by the Tribunal are merely recommendations; they are not binding upon government.[33]

There is however evidence that the revitalisation efforts are taking hold, as can be seen in the teaching of te reo in the school curriculum, the use of M?ori as an instructional language, and the supportive ideologies surrounding these efforts.[34] In 2014, a survey of students ranging in age from 18-24 was conducted; the students were of mixed ethnic backgrounds, ranging from P?keh? to M?ori who lived in New Zealand. This survey showed a 62% response saying that te reo M?ori was at risk.[34] Albury argues that these results come from the language either not being used enough in common discourse, or from the fact that the number of speakers was inadequate for future language development.[34]

The policies for language revitalisation have been changing in attempts to improve M?ori language use and have been working with suggestions from the Waitangi Tribunal on the best ways to implement the revitalisation. The Waitangi Tribunal in 2011 identified a suggestion for language revitalisation that would shift indigenous policies from the central government to the preferences and ideologies of the M?ori people.[33] This change recognises the issue of M?ori revitalisation as one of indigenous self-determination, instead of the job of the government to identify what would be best for the language and M?ori people of New Zealand.[35]

Revival since 2015

Beginning in about 2015, the M?ori language underwent a revival as it became increasingly popular, as a common national heritage, even among New Zealanders without M?ori roots. Surveys from 2018 indicated that "the M?ori language currently enjoys a high status in M?ori society and also positive acceptance by the majority of non-M?ori New Zealanders".[5]

As the status and prestige of the language rose, so did the demand for language classes. Businesses were quick to adopt the trend as it became apparent that using te reo made customers think of a company as "committed to New Zealand".[5] The language became increasingly heard in the media and in politics. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern--who gave her daughter a M?ori middle name--made headlines when she toasted Commonwealth leaders in 2018 with a M?ori proverb, and the success of M?ori musical groups such as Alien Weaponry and Maimoa further increased the language's presence in social media.[5]

In 2019, Kotahi Rau Pukapuka Trust began work on publishing a sizeable library of local and international literature in the language.[36] In 2019, a Te Reo card game (T?karo) was created by Hamilton entrepreneurs.[37] By 2020, there was a brand that aimed to help mums promote te reo M?ori in their homes through hand-made taonga.[38]

Linguistic classification

East Polynesian

Rapa Nui

Central Eastern









Comparative linguists classify M?ori as a Polynesian language; specifically as an Eastern Polynesian language belonging to the Tahitic subgroup, which includes Cook Islands M?ori, spoken in the southern Cook Islands, and Tahitian, spoken in Tahiti and the Society Islands. Other major Eastern Polynesian languages include Hawaiian, Marquesan (languages in the Marquesic subgroup), and the Rapa Nui language of Easter Island.[39][40][41]

While the preceding are all distinct languages, they remain similar enough that Tupaia, a Tahitian travelling with Captain James Cook in 1769-1770, communicated effectively with M?ori.[42] M?ori actors, travelling to Easter Island for production of the film Rapa-Nui noticed a marked similarity between the native tongues, as did arts curator Reuben Friend, who noted that it took only a short time to pick up any different vocabulary and the different nuances to recognisable words.[43] Speakers of modern M?ori generally report that they find the languages of the Cook Islands, including Rarotongan, the easiest amongst the other Polynesian languages to understand and converse in.

Geographic distribution

Speakers of M?ori according to the 2013 census.
  < 5%
  > 50%

Nearly all speakers are ethnic M?ori resident in New Zealand. Estimates of the number of speakers vary: the 1996 census reported 160,000,[44] while other estimates have reported as few as 10,000 fluent adult speakers in 1995 according to the M?ori Language Commission.[45] As reported in the 2013 national census, only 21.31 per cent of M?ori (self-identified) had a conversational knowledge of the language, and only around 6.5 per cent of those speakers, 1.4 per cent of the total M?ori population, spoke the M?ori language only. This percentage has been in decline in recent years, from around a quarter of the population to 21 per cent. However, the number of speakers In the same census, M?ori speakers were 3.7 per cent of the total population.[6]

The level of competence of self-professed M?ori speakers varies from minimal to total. Statistics have not been gathered for the prevalence of different levels of competence. Only a minority of self-professed speakers use M?ori as their main language at home.[46] The rest use only a few words or phrases (passive bilingualism).[]

M?ori still is a community language in some predominantly-M?ori settlements in the Northland, Urewera and East Cape areas. Kohanga reo M?ori-immersion kindergartens throughout New Zealand use M?ori exclusively. Increasing numbers of M?ori raise their children bilingually.[46]

Urbanisation after the Second World War led to widespread language shift from M?ori predominance (with M?ori the primary language of the rural wh?nau) to English predominance (English serving as the primary language in the P?keh? cities). Therefore, M?ori-speakers almost always communicate bilingually, with New Zealand English as either their first or second language. Only around 9,000 people speak only in M?ori.[35]

The use of the M?ori language in the M?ori diaspora is far lower than in New Zealand itself. Census data from Australia show it as the home language of 11,747, just 8.2% of the total Australian M?ori population in 2016. However, this could just be due to more M?ori immigrants leaving to Australia.[47]


There was originally no native writing system for M?ori. It has been suggested that the petroglyphs once used by the M?ori developed into a script similar to the Rongorongo of Easter Island.[48] However, there is no evidence that these petroglyphs ever evolved into a true system of writing. Some distinctive markings among the k?whaiwhai (rafter paintings) of meeting houses were used as mnemonics in reciting whakapapa (genealogy) but again, there was no systematic relation between marks and meanings.

The modern M?ori alphabet has 15 letters, two of which are digraphs: A E H I K M N O P R T U W NG and WH.[49] The five vowels have both short and long forms, with the long forms denoted by macrons marked above them - ?, ?, ?, ? and ?. Attempts to write M?ori words using the Latin script began with Captain James Cook and other early explorers, with varying degrees of success. Consonants seem to have caused the most difficulty, but medial and final vowels are often missing in early sources. Anne Salmond[50] records aghee for aki (In the year 1773, from the North Island East Coast, p. 98), Toogee and E tanga roak for Tuki and Tangaroa (1793, Northland, p216), Kokramea, Kakramea for Kakaramea (1801, Hauraki, p261), toges for toki(s), Wannugu for Uenuku and gumera for kumara (1801, Hauraki, p261, p266, p269), Weygate for Waikato (1801, Hauraki, p277), Bunga Bunga for pungapunga, tubua for tupua and gure for kur? (1801, Hauraki, p279), as well as Tabooha for Te Puhi (1823, Northern Northland, p385).

From 1814, missionaries tried to define the sounds of the language. Thomas Kendall published a book in 1815 entitled A korao no New Zealand, which in modern orthography and usage would be He K?rero n? Aotearoa. Beginning in 1817, Professor Samuel Lee of Cambridge University worked with the Ng?puhi chief T?tore and his junior relative Tui (also known as Tuhi or Tupaea),[8] and then with chief Hongi Hika[51] and his junior relative Waikato; they established a definitive orthography based on Northern usage, published as the First Grammar and Vocabulary of the New Zealand Language (1820).[8] The missionaries of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) did not have a high regard for this book. By 1830 the CMS missionaries had revised the orthography for writing the M?ori language; for example, 'Kiddeekiddee' became, what is the modern spelling, 'Kerikeri'.[9] This orthography continues in use, with only two major changes: the addition of wh to distinguish the voiceless bilabial fricative phoneme from the labio-velar phoneme /w/; and the consistent marking of long vowels.

The M?ori embraced literacy enthusiastically, and missionaries reported in the 1820s that M?ori all over the country taught each other to read and write, using sometimes quite innovative materials in the absence of paper, such as leaves and charcoal, and flax.[52] Missionary James West Stack recorded the scarcity of slates and writing materials at the Native schools and the use sometimes of "pieces of board on which sand was sprinkled, and the letters traced upon the sand with a pointed stick".[53]

Long vowels

The alphabet devised at Cambridge University does not mark vowel length. The following examples show that vowel length is phonemic in M?ori:

ata morning ?ta carefully
keke cake k?k? armpit
mana prestige m?na for him/her
manu bird m?nu to float
tatari to wait for t?tari to filter or analyse
tui to sew t Parson bird
wahine woman w?hine women

M?ori devised ways to mark vowel length, sporadically at first. Occasional and inconsistent vowel-length markings occur in 19th-century manuscripts and newspapers written by M?ori, including macron-like diacritics and doubling of letters. M?ori writer Hare Hongi (Henry Stowell) used macrons in his Maori-English Tutor and Vade Mecum of 1911,[54] as does Sir ?pirana Ngata (albeit inconsistently) in his Maori Grammar and Conversation (7th printing 1953). Once the M?ori language was taught in universities in the 1960s, vowel-length marking was made systematic. At Auckland University, Professor Bruce Biggs (of Ng?ti Maniapoto descent) promoted the use of double vowels (e.g. Maaori); this style was standard there until Biggs died in 2000.

Macrons (tohut?) are now the standard means of indicating long vowels,[55] after becoming the favoured option of the M?ori Language Commission—set up by the M?ori Language Act 1987 to act as the authority for M?ori spelling and orthography.[56][57] Most media now use macrons; Stuff websites and newspapers since 2017,[58] TVNZ[59] and NZME websites and newspapers since 2018.[60]

Technical limitations in producing macronised vowels on typewriters and older computer systems are sometimes resolved by using a diaeresis instead of a macron (e.g., Mäori).[61]

Double vowels continue to be used in a few cases, including:


M?ori has five phonemically distinct vowel articulations, and ten consonant phonemes.


Although it is commonly claimed that vowel realisations (pronunciations) in M?ori show little variation, linguistic research has shown this not to be the case.[66]

Vowel length is phonemic; but four of the five long vowels occur in only a handful of word roots, the exception being /a:/.[67] As noted above, it has recently become standard in M?ori spelling to indicate a long vowel with a macron. For older speakers, long vowels tend to be more peripheral and short vowels more centralised, especially with the low vowel, which is long [a:] but short [?]. For younger speakers, they are both [a]. For older speakers, /u/ is only fronted after /t/; elsewhere it is [u]. For younger speakers, it is fronted [?] everywhere, as with the corresponding phoneme in New Zealand English.

As in many other Polynesian languages, diphthongs in M?ori vary only slightly from sequences of adjacent vowels, except that they belong to the same syllable, and all or nearly all sequences of nonidentical vowels are possible. All sequences of nonidentical short vowels occur and are phonemically distinct.[68] With younger speakers, /ai, au/ start with a higher vowel than the [a] of /ae, ao/.

The following table shows the five vowel phonemes and the allophones for some of them according to Bauer 1997 and Harlow 2006. Some of these phonemes occupy large spaces in the anatomical vowel triangle (actually a trapezoid) of tongue positions. For example, as above, /u/ is sometimes realised as [?].

Front Central Back
Close ⟨i⟩ [i], [i:] ⟨u⟩ [?], [u:]
Mid ⟨e⟩ [?], [e:] ⟨o⟩ [?], [o:]
Open ⟨a⟩ [?], [?:][69]

Beside monophthongs M?ori has many diphthong vowel phonemes. Although any short vowel combinations are possible, researchers disagree on which combinations constitute diphthongs.[70]Formant frequency analysis distinguish /a?/, /a?/, /a?/, /a?/, /o?/ as diphthongs.[71]


The consonant phonemes of M?ori are listed in the following table. Seven of the ten M?ori consonant letters have the same pronunciation as they do in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For those that do not, the IPA phonetic transcription is included, enclosed in square brackets per IPA convention.

Labial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ng
Plosive p t k
Fricative wh
[f, ?]
Tap r
Approximant w

The pronunciation of ⟨wh⟩ is extremely variable,[72] but its most common pronunciation (its canonical allophone) is the labiodental fricative, IPA [f] (as found in English). Another allophone is the bilabial fricative, IPA [?], which is usually supposed to be the sole pre-European pronunciation, although linguists are not sure of the truth of this supposition. At least until the 1930s, the bilabial fricative was considered to be the correct pronunciation.[73] The fact that English ⟨f⟩ gets substituted by ⟨p⟩ and not ⟨wh⟩ in borrowings (for example, English February becomes P?puere instead of *Wh?puere) would strongly hint that the M?ori did not perceive English /f/ to be the same sound as their ⟨wh⟩.

Because English stops /p, t, k/ primarily have aspiration, speakers of English often hear the M?ori nonaspirated stops as English /b, d, ?/. However, younger M?ori speakers tend to aspirate /p, t, k/ as in English. English speakers also tend to hear M?ori /r/ as English /l/ in certain positions (cf. Japanese r). These ways of hearing have given rise to place-name spellings which are incorrect in M?ori, like Tolaga Bay in the North Island and Otago and Waihola in the South Island.

/?/ can come at the beginning of a word (like sing-along without the "si"), which is difficult for English speakers outside of New Zealand to manage.

/h/ is pronounced as a glottal stop, , and the sound of ⟨wh⟩ as [?w], in some western areas of North Island.

/?/ is typically a flap, especially before /a/. However, elsewhere it is sometimes trilled.

In borrowings from English, many consonants are substituted by the nearest available M?ori consonant. For example, the English fricatives /t?/, /d?/, and /s/ are replaced by /h/, /f/ becomes /p/, and /l/ becomes /?/ (the /l/ is sometimes retained in the southern dialect, as noted below).

Syllables and phonotactics

Syllables in M?ori have one of the following forms: V, VV, CV, CVV. This set of four can be summarised by the notation, (C)V(V), in which the segments in parentheses may or may not be present. A syllable cannot begin with two consonant sounds (the digraphs ng and wh represent single consonant sounds), and cannot end in a consonant, although some speakers may occasionally devoice a final vowel. All possible CV combinations are grammatical, though wo, who, wu, and whu occur only in a few loanwords from English such as wuru, "wool" and whutuporo, "football".[74]

As in many other Polynesian languages, e.g., Hawaiian, the rendering of loanwords from English includes representing every English consonant of the loanword (using the native consonant inventory; English has 24 consonants to 10 for M?ori) and breaking up consonant clusters. For example, "Presbyterian" has been borrowed as Perehipeteriana; no consonant position in the loanword has been deleted, but /s/ and /b/ have been replaced with /h/ and /p/, respectively.

Stress is typically within the last four vowels of a word, with long vowels and diphthongs counting double. That is, on the last four moras. However, stressed moras are longer than unstressed moras, so the word does not have the precision in M?ori that it does in some other languages. It falls preferentially on the first long vowel, on the first diphthong if there is no long vowel (though for some speakers never a final diphthong), and on the first syllable otherwise. Compound words (such as names) may have a stressed syllable in each component word. In long sentences, the final syllable before a pause may have a stress in preference to the normal stressed syllable.


North Island dialects[75]

Biggs proposed that historically there were two major dialect groups, North Island and South Island, and that South Island M?ori is extinct.[76] Biggs has analysed North Island M?ori as comprising a western group and an eastern group with the boundary between them running pretty much along the island's north-south axis.[77]

Within these broad divisions regional variations occur, and individual regions show tribal variations. The major differences occur in the pronunciation of words, variation of vocabulary, and idiom. A fluent speaker of M?ori has no problem understanding other dialects.

There is no significant variation in grammar between dialects. "Most of the tribal variation in grammar is a matter of preferences: speakers of one area might prefer one grammatical form to another, but are likely on occasion to use the non-preferred form, and at least to recognise and understand it."[78] Vocabulary and pronunciation vary to a greater extent, but this does not pose barriers to communication.

North Island dialects

In the southwest of the island, in the Whanganui and Taranaki regions, the phoneme /h/ is a glottal stop and the phoneme /wh/ is [?w]. This difference was the subject of considerable debate during the 1990s and 2000s over the then-proposed change of the name of the city Wanganui to Whanganui.

In T?hoe and the Eastern Bay of Plenty (northeastern North Island) ng has merged with n. In parts of the Far North, wh has merged with w.

South Island dialects

In the extinct South Island dialects, ng merged with k in many regions. Thus K?i Tahu and Ng?i Tahu are variations in the name of the same iwi (the latter form is the one used in acts of Parliament). Since 2000, the government has altered the official names of several southern place names to the southern dialect forms by replacing ng with k. New Zealand's highest mountain, known for centuries as Aoraki in southern M?ori dialects that merge ng with k, and as Aorangi by other M?ori, was later named "Mount Cook", in honour of Captain Cook. Now its sole official name is Aoraki / Mount Cook, which favours the local dialect form. Similarly, the M?ori name for Stewart Island, Rakiura, is cognate with the name of the Canterbury town of Rangiora. Likewise, Dunedin's main research library, the Hocken Collections, has the name Uare Taoka o H?kena rather than the northern (standard) Te Whare Taonga o H?kena.[79] Maarire Goodall and George Griffiths say there is also a voicing of k to g - this is why the region of Otago (southern dialect) and the settlement it is named after - Otakou (standard M?ori) - vary in spelling (the pronunciation of the latter having changed over time to accommodate the northern spelling).[80] Westland's Waitangitaona River became two distinct rivers after an avulsion, each named in a differing dialect. While the northern river was named the Waitangit?huna River, the southern river became the Waitakit?huna-ki-te-Toka, using the more usual southern spelling (ki-te-Toka, "of the south", would be rendered ki-te-Tonga in standard M?ori).

The standard M?ori r is also found occasionally changed to an l in these southern dialects and the wh to w. These changes are most commonly found in place names, such as Lake Waihola[81] and the nearby coastal settlement of Wangaloa (which would, in standard M?ori, be rendered Whangaroa), and Little Akaloa, on Banks Peninsula. Goodall and Griffiths claim that final vowels are given a centralised pronunciation as schwa or that they are elided (pronounced indistinctly or not at all), resulting in such seemingly-bastardised place names as The Kilmog, which in standard M?ori would have been rendered Kirimoko, but which in southern dialect would have been pronounced very much as the current name suggests.[82] This same elision is found in numerous other southern placenames, such as the two small settlements called The Kaik (from the term for a fishing village, kainga in standard M?ori), near Palmerston and Akaroa, and the early spelling of Lake Wakatipu as Wagadib. In standard M?ori, Wakatipu would have been rendered Whakatipua, showing further the elision of a final vowel.

Despite being officially regarded as extinct,[83] many government and educational agencies in Otago and Southland encourage the use of the dialect in signage[84] and official documentation.[85]

Grammar and syntax

M?ori has mostly a VSO (verb-subject-object) word order,[86] is analytical and makes extensive use of grammatical particles to indicate grammatical categories of tense, mood, aspect, case, topicalization, among others. The personal pronouns have a distinction in clusivity, singular, dual and plural numbers,[87] and the genitive pronouns have different classes (a class, o class and neutral) according to whether the possession is alienable or the possessor has control of the relationship (a category), or the possession is inalienable or the possessor has no control over the relationship (o category), and a third neutral class that only occurs for singular pronouns and must be followed by a noun.[88]


Biggs (1998) developed an analysis that the basic unit of M?ori speech is the phrase rather than the word.[89] The lexical word forms the "base" of the phrase. Biggs identifies five types of bases.

Noun bases include those bases that can take a definite article, but cannot occur as the nucleus of a verbal phrase; for example: ika (fish) or r?kau (tree).[90] Plurality is marked by various means, including the definite article (singular te, plural ng?),[91] deictic particles "t?r? r?kau" (that tree), "?r? r?kau" (those trees),[92] possessives "taku whare" (my house), "aku whare" (my houses).[93] A few nouns lengthen a vowel in the plural, such as wahine (woman); w?hine (women).[94] In general, bases used as qualifiers follow the base they qualify, e.g. "matua wahine" (mother, female elder) from "matua" (parent, elder) "wahine" (woman).[95]

Universal bases are verbs which can be used passively. When used passively, these verbs take a passive form. Biggs gives three examples of universals in their passive form: inumia (drunk), tangihia (wept for), k?a (said).[96]

Stative bases serve as bases usable as verbs but not available for passive use, such as ora, alive or tika, correct.[97] Grammars generally refer to them as "stative verbs". When used in sentences, statives require different syntax than other verb-like bases.[98]

Locative bases can follow the locative particle ki (to, towards) directly, such as runga, above, waho, outside, and placenames (ki Tamaki, to Auckland).[99]

Personal bases take the personal article a after ki, such as names of people (ki a Hohepa, to Joseph), personified houses, personal pronouns, wai? who? and Mea, so-and-so.[99]


Like all other Polynesian languages, M?ori has a rich array of particles, which include verbal particles, pronouns, locative particles, articles and possessives.

Verbal particles indicate aspectual, tense related or modal properties of the verb to which they relate to. They include:

  • i (past)
  • e (non-past)
  • kei te (present continuous)
  • kua (perfect)
  • e ... ana (imperfect, continuous)
  • ka (inceptive, future)
  • kia (desiderative)
  • me (prescriptive)
  • kei (warning, "lest")
  • ina or ana (punctative-conditional, "if and when")[100]
  • k?ti (cessative)[101]
  • ai (habitual)[102]

Locative particles (prepositions) refer to position in time and/or space, and include:

  • ki (to, towards)
  • kei (at)
  • i (past position)
  • hei (future position)[103]

Possessives fall into one of two classes of prepositions marked by a and o, depending on the dominant versus subordinate relationship between possessor and possessed: ng? tamariki a te matua, the children of the parent but te matua o ng? tamariki, the parent of the children.[104]


Singular Plural
Definite te ng?
Indefinite he
Proper a

Definitives include the articles te (singular) and ng? (plural)[105] and the possessive prepositions t? and t?.[88] These also combine with the pronouns.

The indefinite article he is usually positioned at the beginning of the phrase in which it is used. The indefinite article is used when the base is used indefinitely or nominally. These phrases can be identified as an indefinite nominal phrase. The article either can be translated to the English 'a' or 'some', but the number will not be indicated by he. The indefinite article he when used with mass nouns like water and sand will always mean 'some'.[106]

He t?ne A man Some men
He k?tiro A girl Some girls
He k?inga A village Some villages
He ?poro An apple Some apples

The proper article a is used for personal nouns. The personal nouns do not have the definite or indefinite articles on the proper article unless it is an important part of its name. The proper article a always being the phrase with the personal noun.[107]

Kei hea, a Pita? Where is Peter?
Kei ?karana, a Pita. Peter is at Auckland.
Kei hea, a Te Rauparaha? Where is Te Rauparaha?
Kei t?ku k?inga, a Te Rauparaha. Te Rauparaha is at my home.


Demonstrative determiners and adverbs

Demonstratives occur after the noun and have a deictic function, and include t?nei, this (near me), t?n?, that (near you), t?r?, that (far from us both), and taua, the aforementioned (anaphoric). Other definitives include t?hea? (which?), and t?tahi, (a certain). The plural is formed just by dropping the t: t?nei (this), ?nei (these). The related adverbs are nei (here), n? (there, near you), r? (over there, near him).[108]

Singular Plural Adverb
Proximal t?nei ?nei nei
Medial t?n? ?n? n?
Distal t?r? ?r? r?


Personal pronouns

Pronouns have singular, dual and plural number. Different first-person forms in both the dual and the plural are used for groups inclusive or exclusive of the listener.

Singular Dual Plural
1.INCL au / ahau t?ua t?tou
1.EXCL m?ua m?tou
2 koe k?rua koutou
3 ia r?ua r?tou
Diagram of pronouns in M?ori. Grammatical person:
  •   1
  •   2
  •   3

Like other Polynesian languages, M?ori has three numbers for pronouns and possessives: singular, dual and plural. For example: ia (he/she), r?ua (they two), r?tou (they, three or more). M?ori pronouns and possessives further distinguish exclusive "we" from inclusive "we", second and third. It has the plural pronouns: m?tou (we, exc), t?tou (we, inc), koutou (you), r?tou (they). The language features the dual pronouns: m?ua (we two, exc), t?ua (we two, inc), k?rua (you two), r?ua (they two). The difference between exclusive and inclusive lies in the treatment of the person addressed. M?tou refers to the speaker and others but not the person or persons spoken to ("I and some others but not you"), and t?tou refers to the speaker, the person or persons spoken to and everyone else ("you, I and others"):[109]

  • T?n? koe: hello (to one person)
  • T?n? k?rua: hello (to two people)
  • T?n? koutou: hello (to more than two people)[110]

Possessive pronouns

The possessive pronouns vary according to person, number, clusivity, and possessive class (a class or o class). Example: t?ku pene (my pen), ?ku pene (my pens). For dual and plural subject pronouns, the possessive form is analytical, by just putting the possessive particle (t?/t? for singular objects or ?/? for plural objects) before the personal pronouns, e.g. t? t?tou karaihe (our class), t? r?ua whare (their [dual] house); ? t?tou karaihe (our classes). The neuter one must be followed by a noun and only occur for singular first, second and third persons. Taku is my, aku is my (plural, for many possessed items). The plural is made by deleting the initial [t].[88]

Subject Object
Number Person Singular Plural
a class o class neutral a class o class neutral
Singular 1 t?ku t?ku taku ?ku ?ku aku
2 t?u t?u t? ?u ?u ?
3 t?na t?na tana ?na ?na ana

Interrogative pronouns

  • wai ('who')
  • aha ('what')
  • hea ('where')
  • n? hea ('whence')
  • ?hea ('when')
  • e hia ('how many [things]')
  • tokohia ('how many [people]')
  • p?hea ('how')
  • t?hea ('which'), ?hea ('which [pl.]')
  • he aha ... ai ('why [reason]')
  • n? te aha ... ai ('why [cause]')[111]

Phrase grammar

A phrase spoken in M?ori can be broken up into two parts: the "nucleus" or "head" and "periphery" (modifiers, determiners). The nucleus can be thought of as the meaning and is the centre of the phrase, whereas the periphery is where the grammatical meaning is conveyed and occurs before and/or after the nucleus.[112]

Periphery Nucleus Periphery
te whare nei
ki te whare

The nucleus whare can be translated as "house", the periphery te is similar to an article "the" and the periphery nei indicates proximity to the speaker. The whole phrase, te whare nei, can then be translated as "this house".[113]

Phrasal particles

A definite and declarative sentence (may be a copulative sentence) begins with the declarative particle ko.[114] If the sentence is topicalized (agent topic, only in non-present sentences) the particle n? begins the sentence (past tense) or the m? (future, imperfective) followed by the agent/subject. In these cases the word order changes to SVO. These agent topicalizing particles can contract with singular personal pronouns and vary according to the possessive classes: n?ku can be though of as meaning "as for me" and behave like an emphatic or dative pronoun.[115]

Agent topic pronouns
Past Future
1S n?ku/n?ku m?ku/m?ku
2S n?u/n?u m?u/m?
3S n?na/n?na m?na/m?na

Case particles


Forming negative phrases in M?ori is quite grammatically complex. There are several different negators which are used under various specific circumstances.[120] The four main negators are as follows:[120]

Negator Description
k?o Negative answer to a polar question.
k?ore/k?hore/k?re/ The most common verbal negator.
kore A strong negator, equivalent to 'never'.
kaua e Negative imperatives; prohibitive
ehara Negation for copulative phrases, topicalized and equative phrases

K?hai and t? are two negators which may be seen in specific dialects or older texts, but are not widely used.[120] The most common negator is k?hore, which may occur in one of four forms, with the k?o form only being used in response to a question.[120] Negative phrases, besides using k?ore, also affect the form of verbal particles, as illustrated below.

Verbal particles[120]
Positive Negative
Past i i
Future ka i/e
Present kei te i te
Imperfect e...ana
Past perfect kua kia

The general usage of k?hore can be seen in the following examples. The subject is usually raised in negative phrases, although this is not obligatory.[121] Each example of a negative phrase is presented with its analogue positive phrase for comparison.

(1a) K?hore t?tou e haere ana ?p?p?
NEG 1PLincl T/A move T/A tomorrow
'We are not going tomorrow'[122]
(1b) E haere ana t?tou ?p?p?
T/A move T/A 1PLincl tomorrow
'We are going tomorrow'[122]
(2a) K?hore an? he t?ngata kia tae mai
NEG yet a people SUBJ arrive hither
'Nobody has arrived yet'[122]
(2b) Kua tae mai he t?ngata
T/A arrive hither a people
'Some people have arrived'[122]

Passive sentences

The passive voice of verbs is made by a suffix to the verb. For example, -ia (or just -a if the verb ends in [i]). The other passive suffixes, some of which are very rare, are: -hanga/-hia/-hina/-ina/-kia/-kina/-mia/-na/-nga/-ngia/-ria/-rina/-tia/-whia/-whina/.[123] The use of the passive suffix -ia is given in this sentence: Kua hangaia te marae e ng? tohunga (The marae has been built by the experts). The active form of this sentence is rendered as: Kua hanga ng? tohunga i te marae (The experts have built the marae). It can seen that the active sentence contains the object marker 'i', that is not present in the passive sentence, while the passive sentence has the agent marker 'e', which is not present in the active sentence.[124]

Polar questions

Polar questions (yes/no questions) can be made by just changing the intonation of the sentence. The answers may be ?e (yes) or k?o (no).[125]

Derivational morphology

Although M?ori is mostly analytical there are several derivational affixes:

  • -anga, -hanga, -ranga, -tanga (-ness, -ity) (the suffix depends on whether the verb takes, respectively, the -ia, -hia, -ria or -tia passive suffixes) (e.g. p?ti 'vote', p?titanga 'election')
  • -nga (nominalizer)[126]
  • kai- (agentive noun)[127] (e.g. mahi 'work', kaimahi 'worker/employee')
  • ma- (adjectives)[128]
  • tua- (ordinal numerals)[129] (e.g. tahi 'one', tuatahi 'first/primary')
  • whaka- (causative prefix)[130]


From missionary times, M?ori used adaptations of English names for days of the week and for months of the year. Since about 1990, the M?ori Language Commission has promoted new "traditional" sets. Its days of the week have no pre-European equivalent, but reflect the pagan origins of the English names, for example, Hina = moon. The commission based the months of the year on one of the traditional tribal lunar calendars.[131]

Day Adaptation Official
Monday Mane R?hina
Tuesday T?rei R?t?
Wednesday Wenerei R?apa
Thursday T?ite R?pare
Friday Paraire R?mere
Saturday R?horoi/H?terei R?horoi
Sunday R?tapu/Wiki R?tapu
Month Adaptation Official
January H?nuere Kohi-t?tea
February P?puere Hui-tanguru
March M?ehe Pout?-te-rangi
April ?perira Paenga-wh?wh?
May Mei Haratua
June Hune Pipiri
July H?rae H?ngongoi
August ?kuhata Here-turi-k?k?
September Hepetema Mahuru
October Oketopa Whiringa-?-nuku
November Noema Whiringa-?-rangi
December T?hema Hakihea

Influence on New Zealand English

New Zealand English has gained many loanwords from M?ori, mainly the names of birds, plants, fishes and places. For example, the kiwi, the national bird, takes its name from te reo. "Kia ora" (literally "be healthy") is a widely adopted greeting of M?ori origin, with the intended meaning of "hello".[132] It can also mean "thank you", or signify agreement with a speaker at a meeting. The M?ori greetings "t?n? koe" (to one person), "t?n? k?rua" (to two people) or "t?n? koutou" (to three or more people) are also widely used, as are farewells such as "haere r?". The M?ori phrase "kia kaha", "be strong", is frequently encountered as an indication of moral support for someone starting a stressful undertaking or otherwise in a difficult situation. Many other words such as "wh?nau" (meaning "family") and "kai" (meaning "food") are also widely understood and used by New Zealanders.

See also


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  • Sutton, Douglas G., ed. (1994). The Origins of the First New Zealanders. Auckland: Auckland University Press. p. 269. ISBN 1-86940-098-4. Retrieved 2010.

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